The Indian state of Uttar Pradesh has sparked controversy after migrant workers, returning home during a nationwide coronavirus lockdown, were doused in bleach disinfectant used to sanitize buses.
Video showed three people, dressed in protective gear, spraying the liquid directly on a group of workers as they sat on the ground in the northern city of Bareilly.
Ashok Gautam, a senior officer in charge of Covid-19 operations in Uttar Pradesh, told CNN as many as 5,000 people were “publicly sprayed” when they arrived before they were allowed to disperse.
“We sprayed them here as part of the disinfection drive, we don’t want them to be carriers for the virus and it could be hanging on their clothes, now all borders have been sealed so this won’t happen again,” he said.
He said the disinfectant used was a solution made from bleaching powder, and was not harmful to the human body.
While chemical disinfectants work on surfaces, they can be dangerous to people. And according to the World Health Organization, putting disinfectant on your skin will not kill the virus if it is already in your body.
How India responded: The chemical wash has appalled many in India. Lav Agarwal, senior official at the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, said Monday that local officials involved in the incident have been “reprimanded,” adding that spraying migrant workers was not a “required” policy in the country.
“This is an overzealous action done by some employees at the field level, either out of ignorance or fear,” he said.
The district magistrate of Bareilly, Nitish Kumar, also tweeted that while the municipal corporation and local fire service were under orders to sanitize buses, they were “overzealous” in spraying the migrant workers directly.